Mongolia Snow Leopard

A research project in the remote Altai Mountains in Mongolia on the tracks of a legendary predator

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The snow leopard (Panthera uncia) is among the rarest and most charismatic of the large cats in the world. It occurs only in remote and montane areas of central Asia, from Nepal to Siberia, and it is estimated that only a few thousands individuals survive. The elusive behaviour and rough habitat make this species particularly difficult to study. Obtaining population abundance estimates is indeed a top scientific priority according to the Snow Leopard Network, an international panel of snow leopard experts. The mountains of Mongolia hide a good number of leopards, however these populations have been studied only occasionally.

Before this project, the snow leopard population living in the Altai Mountains of north-western Mongolia, bordering Russia, had not been studied.


The project

The Tropical Biodiversity Section at MUSE – Science Museum of Trento (Italy), has extensive experience in the study of di elusive mammals. Due to this, in 2015 the museum was invited by a Mongolian NGO (Green Initiative) and by the Government body dedicated to the protection of the Altai Mountain (State Special Protected Area for Altai Mountain Ranges) to conduct the first scientific study on the abundance of the snow leopard in this area.

MUSE and partners, including the Natural History Museum of Denmark, organized in March 2015 the first expedition. The main research method is camera trapping, that allows not only to detect elusive species, such as the snow leopard, but also identify the individuals photographed thanks to their unique pelage pattern, hence obtaining the information needed to estimate abundance. Two professional cameramen participated in the expedition and the documentary Ghost of the mountains was then realized.






The 2017 expedition



During April 1-22, the team will survey Tavan Bodg National Park, Bayan-Ölgii province, Northwestern Mongolia, one of the largest and most important parks in the country. With its 6,362 km2, the park protects a significant portion of the Altai Mountains, and hols the highest peaks in the country (the Khüiten Peak at 4374 m a.s.l.). The area borders Russia to the North and China to the West and is an alpine, glacial massif with over 200 km² of perennial glaciers, and a range of habitats from mountain steppe to mountain desert, Larix sibirica forest and Betula rotundifolia shrub, alpine meadows and alpine tundra; the central portion of the park is at lower elevations and is occupied by three large lakes. Researchers will target an area of approx. 1,000 km2 in the northern portion of the park, where a minimum of 55 camera traps will be positioned to detect the snow leopard and other wildlife. Two teams will set every day 2-3 camera traps following a pre-determined grid and positioning the camera according to signs of the snow leopard on site. The team will work at elevation from approx. 2000 to over 3500 m.




The film: Ghost of the mountains

Realized as a co-production of MUSE and the Natural History Museum of Denmark, the film describes the 2015 expedition and the reasoning behind studying and protecting the snow leopard.
The film has been officially selected for the presentation as première at the 64° Trento Film Festival, and was then mentioned with awards at five international film festivals across the world.


Directed by: Frederik Wolff Teglhus, Annalisa Brambilla
Denmark, Italy / 2016 / 50'

Produced by: MUSE - Museo delle Scienze and Natural History Museum of Denmark, with the co-financing of the Foundation Parco Natura Viva.



Website: http://www.ghostofthemountains.com/



For further information please contact Dr. Francesco Rovero:



The 2017 expedition team


 

Francesco Rovero

MUSE – Science Museum. Project coordinator.
Head of MUSE’s Tropical Biodiversity Section, Ph.D. in animal ecology, he is an ecologist, conservation biologist and mammal expert. He has been working in ecology and tropical biodiversity conservation for 15 years, and is an international expert in the use of camera trapping for wildlife research.
 
   
 

Claudio Augugliaro

Green Initiative and University of Lausanne (CH). Ph.D. candidate, and Scientific representative of Green Initiative.
Scientific coordinator of Green Initiative and, M.Sc. in ecology and biogeography at the University of Palermo (Italy) with Master in management and conservation of species subject to international trade. Since 2016 he is enrolled as a Ph.D. candidate with the University of Lausanne on this snow leopard project, and he is generally involved in fauna and flora conservation projects in Mongolia.
     
 

Jukhan Mergenbai

Mongolian Altai Range Protected Areas. Field researcher and local staff member.
He was born and lives in Bayan Olgii, close to the project area. He obtained a BSc in agriculture in Mongolia, and possesses certified field research skills for snow leopards.
     
 

Claudio Groff

Large carnivore expert​.
Member of Bear Specialist Group, IUCN and of the Big Carnivore Platform of the Alpine Convention, he studies the management of big carnivores in Trentino.
     
 

Miha Krofel

Large carnivore expert.
Ph.D. in animal ecology, he is a researcher at University of Ljubljana in Slovenia with 15 years of international experience in ecology, management and conservation of large carnivores (big cats, lynx, wolves, and bears).











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